Round 4 has come to an end, and so closes one of the most exciting rounds of World Super Bikes in 2019. Will Bautista make it 10 out of 10? Can Jonny Rea end the streak? And can Infinity's Leon Haslam keep building his momentum?
Coming in to the fourth round of the 2019 WSBK championship at Assen in the Netherlands Alvaro Bautista has had a 100% winning start to his World Superbike career with nine wins out of nine races on the Aruba Ducati V4 R and in an effort to equalise things the organisers have given the Ducati team a 250RPM drop in their peak RPM limit following analysis into manufacturer performance from the opening three rounds. In an effort to boost things from the other end Honda have been given a boost of 500RPM.
Regular fans will know that it was only last weekend that round 3 was held in Aragon, Spain so it’s been a busy time for everyone in the paddock
Racing on consecutive weekends is hard work for all concerned, especially when the events are in different countries. The teams needed to pack up tons of equipment in Spain, load it in to their trucks and then haul it over 1000 miles to get it all set up again in Holland.
One man who didn’t race in Spain but would be joining the grid in Holland was Hector Barbera. Like his front running countryman Hector is a GP refugee and it will be interesting to see how he gets on as he gets used to the Kawasaki superbike.
Infinity supported rider Leon Haslam has a great record at Assen, indeed at his last visit here in 2018 he won both of the BSB races, and he has tasted world championship champagne here in the past too.
"I’m lucky enough to have been on the podium at Assen with pretty much every bike I’ve ridden, and I’ve had some great battles with Johnny (Rea) around here too. There are fewer straights at Assen so I think some other bikes should work well here too, we could see six or seven riders battling and hopefully after the way the bike felt on the final day at Motorland Aragon I will be one of them."
His dad, Ron, revealed in an interview that his talented son has been finding that getting used to the WSBK standard Kawasaki has been harder than he thought due to the high specification electronics employed at this level. He said that Leon has had to adapt and change his riding style to suit, but that he’s getting more used to it, and so faster and more confident every time he goes out.
Free practice on Friday at the 4.5km (2.8 miles) circuit came to an early halt when a spectating hare needed to be shuffled back to the public enclosures after trying to get a bit closer to the on-track action than is allowable.
It was a good day for Leon as he finished the chilly day near the top of the table.
“I am really happy because I did not expect to be third quickest. Our plan was to do this morning with a hard tyre and this afternoon with a soft tyre and we did over race distance in both sessions. So, to just use two tyres over the whole day I am really happy. Always Assen is close, one tenth here, one tenth there, and the race is always a close battle. There are a few areas I want to improve in still, but so far so good. The biggest thing is to keep the tyre temperature up. Normally in these conditions the SC0 would never last but the new bigger profile tyre is lasting just unbelievably.”
Superpole on Saturday morning was cut a little short after a red flag was brought out with a minute and a half left in the session due to an incident involving Kiyonari and Razgatlioglu, just when quite a few people were warming up for their fastest lap attempt. Fortuitously for the undefeated championship leader he had literally just set his best lap time of the weekend and so it was he who was going to be on pole position for the first two races. His time was less than a tenth quicker than Van Der Mark’s, in fact the top eight were covered by less than eight tenths of a second. It looked like Leon’s prediction for a close top six or seven was correct, and he was right in the mix on the second row in fifth place.
So, the scene was set for a great race in the afternoon but it wasn’t to be due to mother nature turning the renowned Dutch Cathedral of speed in to the Cathedral of snow.
Race one came very close to starting, the riders completed their out lap and found themselves on the grid ready to race as the very heavy background clouds found their way overhead and snow descended on hapless riders and teams. Everyone was forced to scramble off of the grid to seek shelter from the elements as heavy hail joined the party
While there were still quite a few hours of daylight left the cold was what meant that proceedings for the day were cancelled. Cold tearing of tyres where the tread delaminates from the carcass due to the difference between inner and outer layer temperatures of the rubber was one real possibility, and the other problem is that race tyres simply don’t work in the cold. In fact, Pirelli recommend that they be stored in condition of at least 5 degrees Celsius.
The damp conditions combined with very low temperatures were enough to convince Race Direction to cancel Saturday’s race in order to guarantee the riders’ safety. This was a move welcomed by riders. Leon Had this to say.
“Obviously I love Assen and I hope we can have as much racing all in one day tomorrow. I think it was the right call, even if it really rained really hard, the track conditions in terms of temperature would not have made it safe. Obviously, we did not have a chance to race in dry conditions. We will reset, analyse a little bit more data from Superpole to make a few little changes. I am ready for anything tomorrow.”
Leon is well known for being one of the toughest characters in the paddock, and if he says it wasn’t safe then it really must have been dangerous. This is man who spent time with the medical team at FC Barcelona during the week to try and sort out his troublesome ankle. The same ankle which had the stitches from a recent operation fail mid race in Spain. He almost landed on the podium there
It was a huge relief for all when the sun shone brightly on Sunday morning, and while far from warm, track temperature was about 8 Celsius, it was at least good enough to get the racing underway much to the relief of the large Dutch crowd who were promised two full length races on the day.
At the start pole man Bautista made the best use of his position and took the lead in to the first corner ahead of a fast-starting BMW mounted Reiterberger and local man Van der Mark. Leon also made a good start and was away in fourth during the early stages.
Jonny Rea may have lost out in the Superpole shuffle but he was quick to show why he’s the reigning champion as he powered his way up to third by the end of the second lap. But out in front the Ducati rider with the clear track in front of him was setting the pace and trying hard to open up the gap from his pursuers led by the on-form young German.
Leon was a few tenths behind in the early stages, locked in close a battle with the Pata Yamaha’s of fellow Brit Alex Lowes and his team mate Michael Van der Mark
With 14 laps to go Jonathon Rea put his Kawasaki a further step higher on the podium and fans knew it was time to see if his amazing record at Assen would be enough to challenge the record that Bautista has set in world superbikes. If the Spaniard won this race it would be his tenth win in succession in his debut season. By any standards a remarkable achievement, and a new record.
Back in 11th the extra 500 revs didn’t seem to be helping Leon Camier on his Honda.
With two thirds of the race gone it was Reiterbeger who had slipped back a few places to sixth while Alvaro continued to lead the way, slightly opening up the gap to the Jonathan Rea every lap. Van der Mark, in a solid third, was not close enough to challenge the leaders despite the vocal encouragement from the local crowd. A short way back the most exciting race on the track was the one for fourth between Leon and Alex Lowes. A classic Kawasaki vs. Yamaha fight between the two friends who actually spend a lot of time together training.
A wobble with four laps to go saw the gap between the duellists at the front close slightly. This gave hope to the spectators that we were in for a grandstand finish but it wasn’t to be as the Ducati rider made it a perfect ten at a track where it was felt the Ducati may not be as strong. Jonathon Rea was just over 3 seconds back and had to wear his bridesmaid dress for the tenth time this year. Another couple of seconds back it was Michael Van der Mark who gave his local fans a lot to cheer about as he took third.
Alex beat Leon over the line by just under two tenths of a second to take fourth. That was pretty much the same margin he beat him by in the Superpole qualifying the day before.
Leon said after the race that he wasn’t happy with the front tyre, but for the afternoon race the temperature had doubled so he was hoping that would make a massive difference to the feel of the rubber. He also said that quite a few of the others had not been totally happy with their front ends either.
Round 4, Race 1 Results
|1||A. Bautista (SPA)||19||ARUBA.IT Racing - Ducati||21||-|
|2||J. Rea (GBR)||1||Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK||21||3.130|
|3||M. Van Der Mark (NED)||60||Pata Yamaha WorldSBK||21||4.934|
|4||A. Lowes (GBR)||22||Pata Yamaha WorldSBK||21||10.679|
|5||L. Haslam (GBR)||91||Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK||21||10.859|
|6||M. Reiterberger (GER)||28||BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team||21||15.105|
|7||C. Davies (GBR)||7||ARUBA.IT Racing - Ducati||21||17.001|
|8||J. Torres (SPA)||11||Team Pedercini Racing||21||20.227|
|9||T. Razgatlioglu (TUR)||9||Turkish Puccetti Racing||21||20.276|
|10||T. Sykes (GBR)||6||BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team||21||21.748|
The grid for the second race rolled up to the line in relatively tropical conditions a few hours later. The track temperature had clawed its way up to 18 degrees Celsius at least.
The grid for the race was the same as for the earlier event, so was the distance, 21 laps.
When the lights went out it was Bautista again who made the holeshot from the top grid position and he led the tightly packed field away but behind him Rea hooked up beautifully and instead of diving for the apex at turn one he went high and wide and catapulted himself up to third as he exited the first turn.
At the next corner it was the turn of Michael Van der Mark to lose a place and the almost unbelievably Rea went from eight on the grid to 1st just three corners later as he put his green machine under the Italian V4!
Clearly his form in the first race wasn’t representative of what he can do around the sweeping turns of Assen. After all this is a man who’s won here on every visit since 2013
So, over the line to complete the first lap and it was a three-way battle of the manufacturers with Kawasaki leading the way from Ducti and Yamaha. In fourth was Leon Haslam who made his way in to a podium position a few corners in to lap two as he passed Michael Van der Mark on the Pata Yamaha.
Not far from them it was Chaz Davies on the other Aruba Ducati and Alex Lowes on the other Pata Yamaha who were also in the mix.
Four laps in to the race we had a Ducati 2-3 with Jonathon Rea still leading. Both of the Yamahas had also demoted Leon who was now in sixth but hanging on to the tail of the pack.
A lap later Bautista took up his now customary position in the lead and he was shortly followed by his team-mate Davies. In to the chicane to complete the lap and Van der Mark slipped by Rea to lead him over the line but Rea snatched the position back at the first turn. This was shaping up to be a great race.
Rea chased hard after Davies and was able to perform the same manoeuvre on the Welshman that the Dutchman had made on him a lap earlier and he raced across the line in second and set the fastest lap of the race so far. The Pata machines and Haslam behind were all jostling for position too as they started to drop the BMW of Reiterberger.
Bautista and Rea spent the next few laps trading fastest lap times as one tried to escape and the other tried to close the gap. With ten to go it looked like the latter was succeeding, but only by fractions of a second.
Behind the leading pair the battle for third was a desperately close one between the Pata Yamaha duo with Michael Van der Mark clearly very keen to make another strong impression at home.
Haslam and Davies were having a similar battle behind them and were ready to pick up any pieces if one of the runners in front hit problems. Reiterberger was looking to come and play with them as well.
With eight laps to go Bautista managed to set a new lap record in the far from ideal conditions and it started to look like it was time for his family to find yet more space in the already groaning trophy cabinet.
With just 4 laps to go Marcus Reiterberger was past Leon while ahead his Irish teammate was coming under a lot of pressure from Van der Mark who had managed to drop Alex Lowes by a couple of seconds and was now in a position to challenge for second. Naturally the Dutch crowd were right behind him and cheering him on loudly.
With three to go Leon dropped another place to a BMW as Sykes went ahead of him. Clearly our man was running in to some sort of problem.
A lap later it was the turn of the other Kawasaki to lose a place as Van der Mark went through to take the place he’s been threatening to grab for the last couple of laps. Was Rea’s run of being the bridesmaid about to end?
Rea was determination personified as he fought hard to reclaim the place and we saw him lunging at the blue machine ahead in a finale that had the fans on the edge of their seats as they literally swapped paint. Despite his determination Rea just didn’t have the rubber at the end to sustain the pace needed to make a move stick and he came across the line two hundredths of a second behind his rival for second place, much to the justifiably unhidden delight of the locals.
Almost five seconds out in front though it was the Ducati mounted Spaniard Alvaro Bautista who went over the finish line first once again.
Alex Lowes added to Yamaha’s podium joy by beating Chas Davies in to fourth and some Teutonic pride was retained as Reiterberger and Sykes brought their BMW’s home in sixth and seventh ahead of a clearly struggling Leon Haslam.
Round 4, Race 2 Results
|1||A. Bautista (SPA)||19||ARUBA.IT Racing - Ducati||21||-|
|2||M. Van Der Mark (NED)||60||Pata Yamaha WorldSBK||21||4.688|
|3||J. Rea (GBR)||1||Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK||21||4.706|
|4||A. Lowes (GBR)||22||Pata Yamaha WorldSBK||21||10.073|
|5||C. Davies (GBR)||7||ARUBA.IT Racing - Ducati||21||13.667|
|6||M. Reiterberger (GER)||28||BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team||21||15.373|
|7||T. Sykes (GBR)||66||BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team||21||15.387|
|8||L. Haslam (GBR)||91||Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK||21||20.915|
|9||T. Razgatlioglu (TUR)||54||Turkish Puccetti Racing||21||22.922|
|10||J. Torres (SPA)||81||Team Pedercini Racing||21||23.518|
Standings After Round 4, Race 2
|1.||Alvaro Bautista (SPA)||ARUBA.IT Racing - Ducati||236|
|2.||Jonathan Rea (GBR)||Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK||183|
|3.||Alex Lowes (GBR)||Pata Yamaha WorldSBK||126|
|4.||Michael Van Der Mark (NED)||Pata Yamaha WorldSBK||115|
|5.||Leon Haslam (GBR)||Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK||93|
|6.||Chaz Davies (GBR)||ARUBA.IT Racing - Ducati||76|
“In both races, with about eight laps to go in race one, the front tyre grip just went and it was even worse in race two, with about 11 or 12 to go. I was happy to keep the bike upright and not lose the front. I feel we easily had the pace for podiums but we didn’t, so we have to reassess the problems.”
So, Bautista has now won all of the races in a very competitive 2019 World superbike championship. A new record which establishes him firmly at the top of the series and makes him a very clear favourite.
However, this is bike racing, and as anyone who is a true fan knows anything can happen in the coming events. We’re certainly looking forward to them here at Infinity towers.
This article was written by Keith Roissetter, Infinity Watford Store Manager, and edited by Aaron Thomson, Content Editor at Infinity Motorcycles.